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Sacraments

30. Partake – The Christian disciple and Sacraments

Jesus said “He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” (Luke 22v19-20)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28v18-20)

These two events are what in the Protestant church are the sacraments: Holy Communion and Baptism.

What are Sacraments?

The word sacrament derives from the Latin word sacramentum, which is defined as consecrated and made holy. The sacraments as commanded by Jesus are ceremonial by nature. By spiritual and inward means are the sacraments made effective, useful and purposeful.

Sacraments are the outward rites given by Christ to the Church, as symbols of the saving truth of the Gospel. The Anglican Catechism rightly calls them ‘An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’. There are three hallmarks of what a sacrament is: a visible sign of union with Jesus, points to invisible grace and there is a bond between the visible sign and invisible grace. For the Protestant church, baptism and communion are as Augustine stated the “visible words of God”, in so much as they point directly to the gospel – Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection. As Christian disciples we are obliged to follow Jesus’ commandments (John 14v15; 2 Corinthians 5v9). Therefore we should participate in being baptised (Matthew 28v19) and in taking Holy Communion (Luke 22v19). Martin Luther referred to them as the bath and the bread!!”

Baptism is commanded for all who believe in Jesus (Matthew 28v19; Acts 2v38) and it naturally followed after conversion (Acts 2v37; Acts 10v47; Acts 16v33). But what does it mean?

Meaning

Christian disciples are baptized into Christ (Romans 6v3), and into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is to show a total identification with Jesus Christ, whereby Christian disciples are baptized into His body (1 Corinthians 12v13) and His death (Romans 6v1-6). Our old inherent sinful natures are seen as buried with Christ and we are raised to live a new life with a new nature! Baptism is also a public testimony that Christian disciples have entered into God’s blessings. But who should be baptized?

There are two main schools of thought over who should be baptized.

Firstly there is “Believers baptism”, which is for all who confess faith in Christ and is mentioned frequently in the New Testament (Matthew 28v19; Acts 2v41). This was by full immersion, usually in a river or other public place.

Secondly, there is what is called “Infant baptism”. This practice and teaching was passed down by the Apostles and was current by the time of the early church Fathers, Origen and Tertullian. The basis for Infant Baptism lies in the Old Testament, where the sign of the covenant between God and His people was circumcision of the male babies. Baptism can be thought of as the equivalent in the New Testament and therefore applicable to infants (Colossians 2v6-12).

I wont tell you my opinion on which I think is the correct form, but let you think about and study it for yourself! Suffice to say, that God has used proponents of both opinions!

Holy Communion Depending on your church, it can be called amongst other things, the Eucharist or The Lord’s Supper. Christian disciples are commanded to participate, as Jesus said: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22v19). Some churches do it every service and others do it monthly. Whenever we participate in it, we do it regularly as a remembrance of Jesus until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11v26)! The bread symbolizes His body broken on the cross and the wine symbolizes His blood shed on the cross. Therefore before we partake of the bread and wine, we are to examine ourselves and confess any unforgiven sin (1 Corinthians 11v28-29). This is done so because it would be hypocritical to eat it while harbouring known sin in our hearts and having fellowship with Jesus and others in the church!

Meaning

· Symbolizes fellowship with other believers in the universal church (1 Corinthians 10v17)

· We receive the benefits of His sacrifice (1 Corinthians 10v16)

· We spiritually feed upon Christ (1 Corinthians 11v24)

· Symbolizes the death of Christ for our sin (Luke 22v19)

· Symbolizes our acceptance of Christ’s death for us.

· Symbolizes our dependence on Christ for spiritual life.

All these symbolize the New Covenant made between God and Jesus’ disciples – a Covenant guaranteeing salvation!

Two other main views insist that it is more than just symbolic! Firstly, there is transubstantiation, which believes that the bread and wine actually become the blood and body of Jesus Christ. Secondly there is, consubstantiation, which believes that the body and blood of Christ are present in the Communion meal. However both of these views would indicate that Jesus Christ is being re-sacrificed and Hebrews 7v27 refutes these views. The bread we eat and wine we drink at Holy Communion, is only symbolic of his sacrifice and not a re-enactment.

I wonder if you noticed the common theme holding these two sacraments together is Jesus death? Without Jesus death on the cross, there would be no Christianity. How do Christian disciples remember the significance of Jesus’ death? As we have seen Christian disciples do this in two ways – through the twin sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. So why is Jesus’ death so significant for the Christian disciple? That is what I hope to discuss next time.

For more to think about please do read Matthew 28v19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11v17-34. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. What lessons can I learn from the Corinthian church regarding Holy Communion?

Q2. What must I do next time I participate in the Holy Communion, and why?

Q3. How can I help those who haven’t been baptized and those recently baptized?

As ever, if you have any comments to make on this, please do contact me at partake(at)hotmail.co.uk. I would love to hear from you and if these are making any difference at all to your continual Christian discipleship! Thank you.

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